I was talking with my mom recently (she is a marriage, family, child therapist) about the value of family portraits in a home. She made some great points that I hadn’t considered which got me thinking, so I started digging into what’s been written about this. One of the powerful aspects of family photography that I wasn’t aware of, is how having portraits in your home can help raise children with stronger confidence in their own worth and abilities. Psychologists and experts have done some work exploring this, so I looked it up.
In 1975 a study was done with a group of fourth graders at a Tennessee school by Tulane University. During a five-week period, the children took Polaroid instant photos of themselves with provided cameras in a variety of assigned poses, compositions while expressing a variety of emotions. Over those five weeks, the children worked with printed images of themselves and created scrapbooks once a week. Testing of the students and teachers at the conclusion of the study revealed a 37% (significant) increase in the student’s average self-esteem behaviors. This Murfreesboro Study shows some evidence that personal photography of children seen and enjoyed in a specific way can help boost a child’s self-esteem.
How does having Family Portraits help boost this process in the home?
In 1983, David Krauss, one of the earliest pioneers in using people’s personal photography and family albums to assist in mental health counseling and therapy, co-authored “Photo Therapy and Mental Health”. This became what is considered a founding text for the use of photography in therapy. He said: “I think it is really important to show a family as a family unit. It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unity.”
Judy Weiser, a psychologist, art therapist and author based in Vancouver says: “Family Portraits lets children learn who they are and where they fit”. “They learn genealogy and the uniqueness of their own family and its story. When a child sees a family portrait with them included in the photography they say to themselves: These people have me as a part of what they are, that’s why I belong here. This is where I come from.”
Ms. Weiser has spent more than 20 years using all manner of personal photography to assist in the treatment process of her clients. She is considered by many to be the foremost authority on these treatment techniques called Photo Therapy.
Prints vs Digital
Craig Steinberg, a licensed psychologist from Eugene, Oregon, who works with children ages five through 13 states: “My personal and clinical bias is there is something very powerful in touching your fingers to an actual print”. Touching the photograph where a face is smiling or the shoulders, it is the same thing as touching a book when you read it. There’s a lot of stimulation of the brain when you have that sensory experience. That is a bit lost in the move to digital. You are touching a keyboard, mouse of touchscreen monitor, but you are not touching the image”.
Displaying Portraits in your home
“Displaying photos prominently in the home sends the message that our family and those in it are important to one another, and we honor the memories we have experienced”, says Cathy Lander-Goldberg, a licensed clinical social worker and professional photographer in St. Louis, Missouri and the director of Photo Explorations, which offers workshops to girls and women using portrait and journaling for self-reflection.
Additionally, Krauss recommends having photographs of that child with their family placed in the child’s bedroom so it can be among the last things they see before sleep and the first thing they may see before beginning their day. “It says we love you and we care about you. You’re important”!
Imagine placing portraits in your children’s room of them being happy in your arms. According to the experts, this could be something that might help ground them as they go through their teen years. Portraits speak when there are no words to be spoken. They are a gentle reminder and they bring to life positive memories that constantly reassure and message, “you belong” and “you are loved”. Having your kids see this when they wake up and as they fall asleep would keep that message alive when they go to their room angry and moody.
When my children moved out of state, I would find myself walking through the house, then stop to look at the image on the wall and just relive the memory! I hated that they were all so far away, but as I stared at the image on the wall, just for a moment, I got to hear their voices and relive that moment…
I hope you celebrate your family on your walls; walls that you see and walk past each day. One day those beautiful children of yours will be grown and gone, and you will walk through the house and pause, remembering all the chaotic, messy life that happened all around you while your children were growing up. Every impactful memory will be there in front of you, hanging on your walls.
What a wonderful way to never forget those moments!